Foundation Wins Big for Catholic Schools
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
September 9, 2021
URORA—Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill began several area education foundations in the Diocese of Rockford back in the early 1970s. Only one remains.
 
The Aurora Catholic Education Foundation continues its support of Aurora’s Catholic grade and high schools these decades later thanks to the dedication of a handful of men who believe in Catholic education.
 
Following in the footsteps of Dr. William Weigel, the foundation’s first president for 15 years, David Verdeyen provided more than 30 years of leadership. 
 
Alan Schuler, the “initial Registered Agent” of the foundation, has served as board treasurer to the present. Verdeyen also mentions Peter Hettinger and the late Thomas Hagerty as long-serving board members.
 
Their stable and active presence has been bolstered by other board members over the years. Four officers, two to three area priests, and several lay parishioners from the Aurora Deanery bring the total to 11-15 board members serving each year.
 
In May, Verdeyen, 84, passed the baton on to current president, John Bonk.
 
Looking back and asked to describe the work of the president, Verdeyen mentions organizing the four board meetings held annually, making sure there was a quorum. He called the meetings and solicited suggestions from the board, and he can give some specific and valuable advice contributed by shorter-term board members.
 
But he points to Schuler as “the backbone of the foundation” and the one who “does the most work.” He and Schuler supervised the foundation’s investments, and Verdeyen notes their “unique” approach: dealing only in stocks and selling “buy options” on them.
 
“That’s worked out really, really well,” Verdeyen says, adding it is “why we can give away quite a bit more, because we make more. ... We haven’t been conservative.”
 
Although many foundations reinvest some earnings back into the principal, Verdeyen says “We try to give away what we make every year” to the four Catholic elementary and three high schools now in Aurora, and to religious education programs in parishes without schools. 
 
The ACEF now distributes about $125,000 each year, although Verdeyen thinks it will be a slightly higher, record amount this year. Most distributions will be given to schools in October, he says.
 
The foundation has two expenses: an annual official and detailed audit each year, costing about $3,000, and a few office supplies. “Everything else is done on a volunteer basis,” Verdeyen says.
 
Looking to the future, Verdeyen is happy to have Bonk take over the presidency now that he has health challenges. 
 
“We feel really good about (Bonk),” he says, calling the newest president “a very good person (who is) really helping where he can.” 
 
He adds that “other board members have some leadership potential ... (we’re) looking around for a future investment committee to keep up our track record ... we’re looking at a few people.”
 
In addition to investment earnings, Verdeyen and Bonk note that they ask parishes to take up a special collection for the foundation’s corpus during Catholic Schools Week. 
 
The board also reaches out at Christmastime to annual donors, and board members send a request to “anyone they might know who would be willing to donate,” Bonk says.
 
Verdeyen mentions a family that put money into a different foundation and now annually gives around $5,000 to the ACEF. Other donations have come from people’s wills.
 
Reflecting on changes he’s seen, Verdeyen names Catholic schools that have closed and a drop from 3,000 Catholic school students in Aurora decades ago down to a “little under 1,500,” adding that “nobody has a magic wand to wave” to reverse that trend.
 
On the other hand, he says Aurora has “an outstanding group of (Catholic) high schools” and notes the “very few places in the whole country” with the options (all boys, all girls and co-ed) found in Aurora’s Catholic high schools.
 
Verdeyen says he knows the money from the ACEF is “definitely appreciated.”
 
“I support everything we can do for all the private schools – Catholic schools first of all,” he says. “Whatever I can do, I do.”
 
The group has done quite a lot. Bishop O’Neill’s original $50,000 investment and decades of service by a handful of dedicated men has led to distributions of almost $3.5 million in support of Catholic education in Aurora.
 
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